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Is the world ready for Ethanol?

By Zeram in Op-Ed
Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:19:54 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

With the rather extreme rise in gas prices here in America, and the recent trouble in Europe over petroleum, I've been thinking, isn't it about time the world considered some alternative fuels?

There is certainly a strong resistance to alternative fuels through out the world. The oil companies hold the world in a tight grip and for the most part keep the major automotive manufactuers in thier back pockets. There are certainly notable exceptions, car makers such as Honda have attempted to make more green cars. Although these efforts seem to have more to do with government pressure than anything.

However what I would like to take issue with here is Ethanol. After some basic research it seems that ethanol would be a very viable alternative fuel. There is already what apperars to be a decent bussiness model for the production of ethanol. This article explains the process and the co-products made during the proccess. The real arguments for ethanol though are that is boosts other segments of the economy and that you get more energy out of the finished product than is put in to create it.

The only major downsides, other than resistance by the "corporate machine", is the fact that "An ethanol vehicle has about 75 to as much as 90 percent the range of a comparable gasoline vehicle...", and that in order for a car to effeciently use ethanol some modifications to the engine are necessary, along with a whole new fuel tank.

So my question here is, what really is the viablity of selling ethanol to the masses? Would it be a good idea to start a chain that is half garage half gas station? Not just in America, but everywhere. Is the world ready for this?


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o Is a good idea, because we need to stop depending on oil! 41%
o Is a bad idea because Joe Average will resist it. 0%
o Has potential in the future. 22%
o Is yummy, yummy in my tummy, tummy! 25%
o I should recive 1 million paper cuts and then be submerged in it for the pervious answer! 10%

Votes: 79
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by Zeram

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Is the world ready for Ethanol? | 56 comments (55 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Infrastructures evolve! (3.25 / 8) (#1)
by Luke Scharf on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 12:07:39 PM EST

Infrastructures evolve. The only exception to this is when the old infrastructure has been destroyed like Europe after WWII.

The alternative to whatever is in place has to be better and/or cheaper. In this case, Joe Schmoe has to be willing to pay to replace or upgrade the thousands and thousands of gas stations that we have in the United States.

I see natural gas vehicles running around my university every day. I walk by the electric cars on my way to work. I never see them off-campus. I never see them being driven by "normal people".

If gas prices go high enough, we might get a new system. If hydrogen, natural gas, electric, or whatever gets cheap enough, then we might get a new system. Else things will stay the same.

I see... (3.33 / 3) (#2)
by djx on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 12:16:46 PM EST

... a large number of alternative fuel vehicles here in Houston, TX, but most (if not all) of them are owned by the city or the state. Best example I have is the city buses. Metro, our mass transit people, has converted a decent number of its buses to run on CNG and/or LNG. The state runs propane in most of its trucks, with CNG as a close second. As far as I can tell, most of the new additions to these two fleets are of the alternate fuel type.

With our governments starting the push by using the alternative fuel vehicles, hopefully people will get the idea. I've toyed with converting my truck to run on propane, but I haven't decided if it's worth it. All I really would need to do to run propane or CNG is change my fuel tank and lines, but the explosive nature of propane and CNG doesn't seem quite worth it for an off-roader like me.

There's my $0.02.

-<end of transmission>-
[ Parent ]
Propane in an auto accident (4.00 / 3) (#11)
by janra on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:15:23 PM EST

I was rather surprised to find that it's relatively safe. Or rather, not as dangerous as you'd think for a compressed combustible gas... as long as you're not standing next to the pressure relief valve!

My uncle's (ex) truck had been converted to propane (this was many years ago, when it was actually cost-effective to convert - the propane companies offered a whole bunch of free propane if you converted, and my father's truck's conversion paid for itself in just over a year in fuel savings). My uncle was in an accident in which he was rear-ended three times and the truck caught on fire (hence the 'ex' truck). They could hear the propane inside the tank heating up, and every so often it would get too hot and the pressure would exceed the safety level, so the pressure relief valve would shoot out a bunch of propane until the pressure was down to a safe level again. It was pretty spectacular, this huge blowtorch shooting out from under the truck. But because of that pressure relief valve, the fuel in the tank never caught fire, which apparently is a problem with conventional fuel cars; all that was burning was the material in the cab, the engine block, the stuff in the box, etc, which is fairly easy to control.

Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
Blowtorch under your car? (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by reshippie on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 02:02:57 PM EST

While I'm sure that it was designed to not damage your car, I wonder what it would be like to be driving behind him, and suddendly see flames headed at you, or even the ground.

Those who don't know me, probably shouldn't trust me. Those who do DEFINITELY shouldn't trust me. :-)
[ Parent ]
I wasn't really refering to eating firey death... (4.00 / 2) (#18)
by djx on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 03:09:17 PM EST

More like my fear of rupturing the fuel tank on a particularly jagged rock. While this is a concern with any fuel tank, a compressed gas tank rupture is especially dangerous. For example, a pressure vessel containing approximately 500 pounds of liquid CO2 ruptured at my work several years back (its relief valve failed) and totally destroyed the truck that it was mounted on. I know that CNG / propane tanks for vehicle fuel are not as large as this, but the danger of rupture is there just as much. Another concern with flammable compressed fuels is the possibility of an explosion after the rupture. That's more of what I was talking about, rather than explosion of the fuel in the tank.

-<end of transmission>-
[ Parent ]
It's cheaper? Cool! (none / 0) (#47)
by Luke Scharf on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:42:25 PM EST

My uncle's (ex) truck had been converted to propane (this was many years ago, when it was actually cost-effective to convert - the propane companies offered a whole bunch of free propane if you converted, and my father's truck's conversion paid for itself in just over a year in fuel savings).

Sweet. If it's still cheaper, I'll do it! How much did they drive? Is this one of those things where it gets more cost-effective when you drive more?

Who would I talk to if I were interested in getting my fuel-injected 1989 Ford Tempo converted? What kind of engine did the trucks have in them? What parts got replaced?


[ Parent ]
my fuzzy memory... (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by janra on Thu Dec 28, 2000 at 02:15:25 AM EST

(Sorry I took so long to reply... I'm not used to checking for replies to my (rare) comments)

Propane is still cheaper, but not as much as it used to be. If I remember correctly, (this was quite a few years ago) normal unleaded was in the vicinity of 40c/L and propane was about 15-18c/L with occasional price wars dropping the price to an insane 2.5c/L (!!!). Now, to compare, regular unleaded goes for about 70c/L here (vancouver, canada) and propane 40-something c/L. The propane companies also no longer offer the free propane as an incentive to convert. (For those americans unfamiliar with metric, one litre is a little bit larger than an american quart, and a little bit smaller than an imperial quart)

As to how much they drove, well I was a kid at the time they converted, so pretty much all trips were far too long. The particular truck they had got slightly worse mileage after the conversion, but the fuel was so much cheaper at the time that it didn't matter. It also got its absolute best mileage at high speeds and high altitudes.

I'm not sure who you would talk to - you could try asking your local mechanic/bodyshop or a gas company that sells propane.

As for what parts were changed, I'm no mechanic but as I understand it, the engine didn't have to be modified, but the fuel tank had to be replaced with a propane cylinder (naturally), the fittings between the tank and the engine had to be made to hold pressure, and a vapouriser had to be added just before the engine so it didn't get any liquid propane injected. The vapouriser occasionally caused problems on cold (below -20 C) mornings - gases cool as they expand, so it would sometimes freeze solid. I'm also not sure where you'd put a propane cylinder in a ford tempo - all the vehicles I saw converted were pickup trucks or vans, and a lot of the trucks carried their cylinders around in the box. I also remember hearing about trucks that ran on either propane or normal gasoline, with I believe only a flick of a switch (to change tanks) for the short term and a twiddle to the timing (to improve fuel-efficiency) for the long term. These trucks kept their old fuel tanks and had the propane cylinders in the box, of course.

Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
There's more to it than that.... (none / 0) (#46)
by Luke Scharf on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:34:40 PM EST

All I really would need to do to run propane or CNG is change my fuel tank and lines, but the explosive nature of propane and CNG doesn't seem quite worth it for an off-roader like me.

There's a lot more to it than that. If you've ever taken a small carburator apart, you'll see that there's a small float-and-valve assembly that's used to regulate the fuel flow into the rest of the carburator. Obviously, that won't work too well with a gaseous fuel. Also, the mixture probably would probably be substantially different.

I don't even want to think about fuel injectors - I've never had one apart, but it's my understanding that pressurizing the liquid fuel is pretty important.

So, you'll have to replace more than just your fuel tank, pump, filters, and lines.

[ Parent ]
Let me get this straight ... (1.71 / 7) (#4)
by Bad Mojo on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 12:46:46 PM EST

"... and that you get more energy out of the finished product than is put in to create it."

That's umpossible!

-Bad Mojo
"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
B. Watterson's Calvin - "Calvin & Hobbes"

What tha means is... (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by YellowBook on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 12:58:37 PM EST

I'm going to assume that what the author means is that you get more energy out of it than you put into it yourself: the rest comes from the sun. The idea is that it's cheaper to grow and harvest corn and process it into ethanol than it is to extract oil from the ground.

[ Parent ]
cheapest carbon/hydrogen is from the ground (4.16 / 6) (#15)
by RGRistroph on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:48:58 PM EST

I think what they mean is that it is not like the hydrogen pushed for some fuel cell cars, in that you still have to split water to get the hydrogen, using energy from some source, before burning it in the fuel cell.

It is most definitely not cheaper to grow and harvest corn and process it into any fuel, than it is to create that fuel from oil.

It's hard to get numbers on these types of things, because the market price for any of the fuels reflects all kinds of other factors -- established infrastructure and markets, and in the case of corn-derived ethanol, massive subsidies.

But when companies around the world want ethanol for industrial processes, they make it from oil, not sugar cane or corn. (Brazil uses ethanol-based fuel derived from sugar cane, but it has to be government mandated as a massive subsidy to the cane industry.) I started to search for links, but I don't have time because I have to make a flight in a couple of hours and do a code delivery before that, but here are some things to look for:

  • In Russia, cheap "vodka" is actually produced at refineries from oil, not via fermentation from wheat or potatoes.
  • In France, there was a case a few years back about a cognac company making cognac not according to the strict rules that it had to come from real fruit, but by buying industrial alcohol and mixing in water and flavors. They had the flavors so perfect that they couldn't prove it by chemical analysis; but the ratio of Carbon 14 to Carbon 12 is very different in "old" oil from the ground than in "new" carbon from fruits grown recently; radioisotope analysis showed that the cognac would have to have been made thousands of years ago if it were real.
  • Finally, you can do a bit of research on plastic manufacturing. Many (most?) plastics start out by making a batch from formyldhyde and alcohol. Why don't all those big plastics factories buy their alcohol from farmers instead of oil companies ? Because it is fundamentally cheaper to get it from the ground.

I don't know how expensive oil would have to get, and how cheap farmland would have to be, before it could replace fossil fuels. I suspect, given the consistent mistakes by the "We're about to run out of oil!" crowd, it will probably be a century or more. There's a lot of oil left at high prices, and technology consistently makes it cheaper to find and extract.

I think this is important to think about, because it tells you that you can't solve CO2-induced global warming (if it exists) by waiting for renewable agricultural fuel to replace oil. You have to do something else, break through on fussion, wind energy, seed oceans with iron so they take more carbon out, something.

One final note: I think that when and if agricultural fuel does replace fossil fuel, it probably won't be through ethanol, it will be through biodiesel. Check out biodiesel.org and look through their links.

Here is an more believable, yet still very optimistic, senario which might see us switching away from fossil fuel for transportation: Suppose that diesel engined cars like the new Volkswagen TDI's, with great gas mileage, become more popular. Suppose also that some advancement in genetic engineering produces a soybean or peanut plant that is highly efficient at converting sunlight into some sort of oil. Then suppose that this plant grows well in an area that has cheap energy from hydroelectric sources, or wind sources (the northern midwest or the northwest). Then that cheap renewable electricity could be used to process the plants into quality burnable fuel. The transition to such fuel would probably take decades, starting with diesel with a small percentage vegetable, and growing as oil prices rose and engine technology adapted.

Maybe. If we're lucky.

[ Parent ]

From what I've read... (3.66 / 3) (#20)
by Zeram on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 03:33:56 PM EST

Making ethanol is just like making beer(or other fermented alcohol), with only a few extra steps to ensure it's purity. It seems that with all the farmland that goes to waste in America, that if cron production could be severely ramped up it would be very cheap, espically because it could be subsidized by all the co-products that come from the process, like stock for cattle feed. Plus many of the article I have read about this indicate that gasoline production from crude oil is still rather expensive, and that the government subsidizes a very large portion of the process.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
Subsidies in oil? Where? (none / 0) (#34)
by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:29:25 AM EST

For your information, a brief review of the petroleum discovery process follows:
    1)Oil company purchases lease (mineral rights)
    2)Oil company completes seismic survey and uses other geophysical methods to determine mineral potential
    3)Oil company spends $250,000 to $10,000,000 or more to drill a well to see if there is oil, and whether it is recoverable. This can be a tax write-off, but so is any other capital loss. And, you can only claim a capital loss, when you have a profit. Ouch.
    4)Oil company pays royalties to the state or province for each drop of petroleum produced (reason why Alaskans do not pay state income tax, and Albertans may not soon)
    5)Oil company pays landowner yearly fee for surface rights, as well as surface rights for any pipelines.
    6)Oil company pays for transport to refinery, refining, and distribution.
Where is the subsidy? Did I miss something?

Corn ethanol production, OTOH is massively subsidized, in order to keep US midwestern farmers happy.


For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

If I'm not mistaken... (1.00 / 1) (#44)
by Zeram on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 09:32:04 AM EST

because the governemnt levels such heavy regulations on the refinement of oil into gas, that they subsidize it so that it doesn't cost $15.00 a gallon. I mean you just said that oil companies have to pay out the wazoo just to get the oil, much less to refine it. And it seems that after paying out all that money for the oil, that (after refining it) selling gas for $1.50 a gallon wouldn't make them any money.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
Prove it (none / 0) (#45)
by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:10:18 AM EST

That is a pretty big load of bovine fecal material to start my morning off with.

Post links please. Start with the US Budget, go on to the DOE, and maybe include a the balance sheets from a few oil companies for good measure. As I noted elsewhere, the US uses almost 4 billion litres of crude oil per day (approx 1 billion gallons). You are saying that there is a $13.50 subsidy, which works out to 5 trillion dollars a year. It would be a rather noticable line item in the budget, so it should be quite easy for you to find.


For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

Just a slight correction... (1.66 / 3) (#8)
by Cynic77 on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:12:02 PM EST

Your body does it every day. If I'm remembering biology correctly, that's how you have the energy to do things. Correct me if I'm wrong, my memory is a little foggy, but I'm pretty sure that the energy used to split one water molecule is used to join six energy producing proteins in your body.

When my ship comes in, I'll probably be at the airport...
[ Parent ]
The over all process... (2.66 / 3) (#9)
by Zeram on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:12:12 PM EST

Well if you read that link I posted that says energy, then you can read for yourself. The general idea is not that it violates any thermodynamic laws, but that the process of creating ethanol requires very little in the way of human generated energy, and certainly much, much less than it takes to extract oil from the ground.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
ROTFL (none / 0) (#37)
by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:39:35 AM EST

If it were not so sad, at any rate.

From your link, in the conclusions:

Corn ethanol is energy efficient, as indicated by an energy ratio of 1.24, that is, for every Btu dedicated to producing ethanol, there is a 24-percent energy gain.
Obviously, energy efficiency is in the eye of the beholder. 124 litres of corn ethanol require 100 litres energy equivalent of corn ethanol. And that level of "efficiency"[snort] is based on the assumption that generous "energy credits are allocated to coproducts". I will give you a hint - no oil company would currently waste 100 litres of oil to recover 120 litres of oil. Especially when the actual cost is 120 litres, which you counterbalance with a 20 litre "energy credit".

I have worked on oil rigs. A shallow well to 1300 metres only required running four Caterpillar diesels (two floor motors, one small Cat for the light plant, and one large Cat for the mud pump) for around 5 days. The fuel trucks came by with 5,000-10,000 litres maybe once a week. You can add on costs for rig moves, workover rigs, production, and so on, but the oil industry is still wildly efficient when compared with corn alcohol. Less so with other forms of biomass, but corn alcohol remains nothing more than a political scheme promoted primarily by midwestern US Governors.


For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

Altruism makes for failed businesses... (2.80 / 5) (#5)
by B'Trey on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 12:50:13 PM EST

What are the advantages to ME of converting my vehicle to ethanol? To the best of my knowledge, there are none. Only a small fraction of the population is willing to spend money in order to reduce the range of their car for the purpose of making things better for the planet. This might be short-sighted behavior but it's the people work.

The idea... (4.00 / 4) (#12)
by Zeram on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:16:58 PM EST

(and now I feel like a dumbass for not putting this in the article)Is that currently the average consumer can purchase a gallon of ethanol for between $1.03 and $1.30 US. So the benefit to business and Joe Average is cheeper fuel prices. The only thing is the price of ethanol can be very fickle, if crop harvests are slim then the price goes through the roof. The government subsidizes ethanol production, if they would subsidizes it as much as they do gasoline production ethanol could be sold for pennies per gallon.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
Corn shortages? Not anytime soon. (5.00 / 2) (#25)
by claudius on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 05:02:34 PM EST

I don't think you have to worry about corn prices affecting the ethanol prices anytime soon--like your box of corn flakes (where the farmer gets about a dime), ethanol production is dominated by the processing costs and not the material costs. The last time I checked corn prices were abysmally low--even lower than when my family quit farming in the 80s in the height of a farm crisis.

Here's a curious anecdote: After my father quit farming he worked for a few years for the Iowa Dept. of Agriculture; his job was to measure the grain in the massive government grain subsidies stockpile. Much of the grain was dumped onto big cone-shaped piles covered with plastic and old tires (to hold the plastic down). The fate of the millions of bushels of grain was to be stored long enough for it to spoil, at which time it was deemed "trash" and then hauled into landfills. In a sense the government was already subsidizing the production of ethanol (rotting grain), albeit a rather useless form of the stuff.

The cynical side of me thinks it's preferable to just tap into the Alaskan oil fields and sell the oil to Japan like we do the rest of Alaskan oil. Open up the strategic oil reserves full bore and sell it oversees. Squander the crude until scarcity drives the prices so high that we have no choice but to find alternatives--adopt a "You're not starving until you are out of food" mentality. Until then we'll never be able to make the hard decisions regarding conservation of our non-renewable resources.

[ Parent ]

Actually... (3.50 / 2) (#27)
by Zeram on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 05:18:19 PM EST

The idea is that when there are floods, clod snaps, insert your favorite natural disaster-type-event here that people freak out and prices spike. It happened back in 93 when the Missouri(SP?) river flooded.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
Ethanol (4.50 / 4) (#14)
by dzimmerm on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:25:12 PM EST

If you run pure Ethanol the advantage would be a longer life for your automobiles engine. Ethanol burns cleaner and so would leave less deposits in the engine. Another advantage is that you would never have to fear water in your fuel line causing a fuel line freeze up as ethanol is mixable with water in any proportion and as such would not allow water pockets to form in parts of the fuel system. Ethanol also has a naturally high octane rating.

Lower engine operating temperatures would also be posible as ethanol burns cooler than gasoline. Lower temperatures would also mean longer engine life and/or engines built with materials other than steel and aluminum. Lighter weight engines could produce savings in manufacturing as well as milage.

The only downside to Ethanol is the corrosiveness in regards to certain fuel systems parts. Some plastic and rubber parts would have to be changed to be made alcohol resistant.

If you had choice between $2.00 gasoline and $1.50 ethanol, which would you choose? Because ethanol can be made from renewable resources you would not have to buy a vehicle and "hope" that the price of fuel would not go up so much that you could not afford to drive it.

If we have $5.00 gasoline I forsee many different types of alternate fuels being used to power our vehicles.


[ Parent ]

Why not *meth*anol? (3.00 / 6) (#7)
by Christopher Thomas on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:08:14 PM EST

Advantages to Methanol over Ethanol:

  • Somewhat higher energy density (more hydrogen, less carbon).
  • You can't drink it.

I suppose you could just denature the ethanol sold at the gas pump, but methanol gives you this for free.

This is why... (3.80 / 5) (#13)
by Zeram on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:20:30 PM EST

"However, several disadvantages must be studied and overcome before neat methanol is considered a viable alternative to gasoline. Methanol's energy density is about half that of gasoline, reducing the range a vehicle can travel on an equivalent tank of fuel. Current-technology vehicles using neat methanol at temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit are difficult to start because of methanol's lower vapor pressure and single boiling point. "

From here.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
Oh no? (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by fvw on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 05:10:28 PM EST

I can assure you you can drink methanol, it's just like ethanol. The only noticable difference is you go blind after 50ml....

[ Parent ]
Advantage? (4.00 / 4) (#29)
by kagaku_ninja on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 05:50:34 PM EST

Advantages to Methanol over Ethanol:
  • You can't drink it.

  • Only an advantage because our government is run by puritanical lawmakers...

    Ethanol, the wonder liquid!
  • It cleans!
  • It disinfects!
  • It powers engines!

  • And it can really liven up a party!

    Drink and drive... the same fuel! Ethanol... It just makes good sense.

    [ Parent ]
    $2.50 cents a gallon is affordable (2.80 / 5) (#10)
    by Sheepdot on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 01:13:53 PM EST

    The highest the gas prices can get in the United States and Canada is $2.50/gallon before it starts becoming profitable for businesses to tap into some of the "not-quite-perfect-oil" reserves we have all over North America (perhaps someone can cue us in on the appropriate scientific term for the stuff).

    Ethanol can be cheap, but it runs really freaking hot. Buy a car to run on it if you want, I don't care. In the meantime I can afford $2.50 a gallon, so I'll keep using the cheap stuff.

    In fact, I think there is some company in Canada right now digging out the "other" oil that I mentioned and is supposedly making a decent profit off of it.

    Missed Point (3.50 / 2) (#22)
    by Malicose on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 03:56:44 PM EST

    I think the major concern of the article's topic was more concerned about the environmental--rather than the economical--aspects of alternative fuel sources.

    [ Parent ]
    Tar Sands (4.50 / 2) (#24)
    by bigbird on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 04:11:40 PM EST

    Huge deposits of tar sands are present near Ft. McMurray in northern Alberta. They are currently quite economical to recover, and comprise a significant portion of Canada'a current oil supply. The reserves of this material, as well as oil shales will last for many generations even at ridiculous extraction rates.

    There are many companies involved, although the main two are Syncrude and Suncor.

    Imperial Oil and many other conventional companies are also looking into oil sands throughout the area, especially near Lloyminster and Cold Lake / Bonnieville area.


    For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
    [ Parent ]

    No... (2.12 / 8) (#17)
    by pb on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 02:07:51 PM EST

    Is this still illegal? I know that when I was in the mountains, there were some people who used this for fuel, and had their own still to process waste vegetable material, etc., etc.

    This is just one of those ideas that makes too much sense to ever become widespread, at least in the US. I'm sure the oil companies will protect us from this sensible, eco-friendly solution...
    "See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
    -- pwhysall
    If you can't pay the bill... (none / 0) (#49)
    by BMaximus on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 02:42:35 PM EST

    don't build the still.

    You still need a license from the Government to make Ethanol, even if its for only fuel. Theres a special license that allows this but you need to comply with the rules strictly. You need to denature the Ethanol with one part gasoline. But its not like the Government has the personel to hunt all these rougue stills down, they have better things to do.


    [ Parent ]
    The problem is in the power... (3.42 / 7) (#19)
    by ObeseWhale on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 03:17:28 PM EST

    of OPEC, that is.

    This debate is, thus far, focusing on the advantages/drawbacks of an ethanol fuel solution. Sure, the advantages seem to outweigh the drawbacks, but does that matter much? There are a lot of humanitarian, practical, and (common)sensical practices that are turned down because of the massive amount of power in the hands of OPEC. The article mentions the "corporate machine", but in this case the machine we have to face is one already banned (or at least supposed to be) in this country, the cartel.

    Don't expect OPEC to take kindly to any action by the US government to push an ethanol based fuel solution. As soon as any such action is taken, we can expect a massive rise in price of oil from OPEC. And remember, our auto industry is only one element of our demand. Such action by the US government would end up being only be a kamikaze-style move towards an eco-friendly policy.

    A far more likely possibility is that America would start producing ethanol-based fuel solutions for nations not as dependent on OPEC oil, Japan for example.

    Most of all, remember that our politicians need a drastic push to change a policy as entrenched in the system as our oil production and exchange. Also remember that our fabulous congress(men/women) often, if not always, accept soft money from corporations, many of which may have their interests in the oil industry. I wonder what our good pal Dick (insert immature, derogatory etymological joke here) Cheney.


    "The hunger for liberty may he suppressed for a time; yet never exterminated. Man's natural instinct is for freedom, and no power on earth can succeed in crushing it for very long."
    -Alexander Berkman
    Actually... (3.00 / 2) (#21)
    by Zeram on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 03:38:33 PM EST

    I was thinking this would be an execlent idea for Europe, ethanol or biodiesel. I don't think OPEC could really reach far enough into most european countries to be a problem (though I could be wrong) and if large parts of Russia could grom Corn, Wheat, or Barly, then it would work out really well pretty much everyway around.
    Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
    [ Parent ]
    I have friend that used to work for a lobbyist (4.00 / 1) (#41)
    by ie on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 07:57:47 AM EST

    One of their clients was a major oil/gas producer. The oil companies really don't care one way or another about using oil for gasoline.

    Refineries are very expensive. They are hard to build - who wants to live near a refinery? They cost a lot to maintain because of the massive environmental and safety issues - big fines, big liability if something happens, expensive administration proving you followed the laws. They actually make more money using the oil for plastics. The lobbyists have to actually pitch their business to the clients, coming up with issues they think they can help them with. The rep for the oil company just shrugged the alternative energy issue off, saying they'd just turn to plastics.

    Obviously, they'd want to do it over the longest time period possible in order to max their current plant investments and not destabilize their market position, but there is no huge US oil company conspiracy. The oil companies know what's coming and are fairly well prepared for it.

    [ Parent ]

    Ethanol Subsidy (2.80 / 5) (#23)
    by Chizzad on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 04:08:10 PM EST

    In Minnesota USA, you can get gasoline with 10% ethanol made from corn. However, it is mostly available in "corn towns". It is subsidized so the cost of 90 octane gas with 10% ethanol is the same as regular unleaded gasoline with 87 octane. However, it is not widely available in the city (minneapolis/st.paul) because it seems to be only subsidized in rural areas. I know the production cost of ethanol is more then refining gasoline but why we cannot get the subsidy in the city is a mystery to me. I guess the mullet-wearing truck-driving rednecks need cheaper high-octane gas.
    Sig? sure but it's pretty cold outside.
    Yummy, yummy, yummy (3.50 / 4) (#28)
    by enterfornone on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 05:26:50 PM EST

    Seriously, in outback Australia there is a serious problem with petrol sniffing, because it's pretty much the most readily available "drug" out there. Imagine the sort of problems you would have if you started pumping out ethanol for the cheaper than what petrol costs.

    efn 26/m/syd
    Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
    Goin' offtopic (3.00 / 1) (#38)
    by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 03:15:03 AM EST

    Australia is not alone on the gas sniffing. In some northern communities in Canada, children as young as ten are into gas sniffing. The topic came up again towards the end of the election with a few heartbreaking news stories.

    One of the stories I heard on CBC (As it Happens, Real Audio links to hear the story) was truly wrenching - a fourteen year old (or so) who watched his brother burn to death after sniffing gas near an open flame, who said that he won't stop sniffing gas because it is the only way he can see his brother again. I have never heard the hosts almost break down and cry before on that particular show.

    I know we can't change history, but the world needs to start working better than it presently does.


    For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
    [ Parent ]

    The smell (3.50 / 2) (#30)
    by Misagon on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 06:04:26 PM EST

    Here in Stockholm, Sweden I have seen quite a few etanol-based vehicles, mainly buses in the public transit system and trucks. The main reason why I know of this is because the companies that use these vehicles advertize on the side that they do, so that people would think more positively about these companies. The other reason is that the exhaust of these alcohol-run vehicles smells; Perhaps this is the second largest reason (after cost) why they are not being used as much as they could be.
    Don't Allow Yourself To Be Programmed!
    And gasoline & diesel smells nice? (none / 0) (#40)
    by ZanThrax on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 07:54:13 AM EST


    Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
    [ Parent ]

    diesel? (3.00 / 2) (#31)
    by mikpos on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 06:22:27 PM EST

    It would be a lot easier if people would just buy diesel engines. If I'm not mistaken, most (if not all) diesel engines can run on vegetable oil, etc. without modifications (though normal vegetable oil is too thick, so it has to be processed a bit). So that would seem like a good choice. For the next decade or two, while petroleum is still plentiful, use diesel fuel; then if petroleum shortages ever come up, you can just run it on canola oil.

    Beyond that, I don't see how any alternative fuel is going to make a shitload of difference. The earth can only radiate so much energy. Vegetable oils and alcohols still give off a lot of wasted energy that you can't get rid of completely. Alternative methods of transportation would be a better idea than alternative fuels (although killing/sterilising a few billion people might do the trick, too. Kidding).

    Ah, yes... (4.00 / 3) (#32)
    by trhurler on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 07:32:50 PM EST

    More conspiracy crap. The oil industry obviously likes people to buy oil, but Honda is hardly the only company out there doing anything else. In fact, Ford has been test marketing various alternative fuel vehicles for longer than Honda has even talked about it, and while Honda and Toyota were the first to the US market with really usable electric hybrids, Ford is also hard at work on the necessary technologies to produce a pure fuel cell vehicle.

    I'm not out to tout Ford here; I prefer Toyota, as it happens. However, my point is, these big conspiracy theories about how the oil industry tells everyone what to do and so on are so much horse shit spewed by wannabe environmentalists who spent $100 on hemp clothing and now think they know everything about everything. Car manufacturers see the coming market, and if they're nothing else, they're eager to capture developing markets, because cars are not a growth industry in most conventional ways.

    As for ethanol, fine, but why not move toward fuel cells? They're a bit bulky right now, but they get smaller every year, and they're far superior to any other "alternative fuel" yet proposed. They're also cheap to operate, relatively safe, and will soon be providing very competitive power/weight ratios; we may well see fuel cell based F1-style racing in our lifetimes.

    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    (Ethanol || Biodiesel) == Good. (4.75 / 4) (#33)
    by robbo42 on Mon Dec 11, 2000 at 07:35:35 PM EST

    It's a little known "fact" that both of these are being researched here in Queensland, Australia, by one of our more intelligent electrical energy generators. A little bit of research will tell you who they are - it's currently still being kept fairly quiet for obvious reasons :)

    Oh. Sorry. Biodiesel - the name that has been given to vegetable oil, in the context of driving a standard diesel engine. It seems that, after some processing, normal McDonalds or KFC chip oil can be used quite effectively! What's more, there's enough to provide a lot of vehicles with a renewable source of energy - the only tradeoff being that your vehicle smells like a fast food outlet :)

    Ethanol, on the other hand, is quite a good source of fuel as a "filler" for standard petrol - brazil have been doing it for some time - or as a complete fuel replacement, with mods to the vehicle. With the current price of sugar (I can only speak for Australia, and in particular Queensland), ethanol production for fuelling vehicles is becoming more and more viable.

    Tradeoffs? With biodiesel, there are none. Once processed, it may as well be diesel - and with the amount of fast food outlets in both Aust and US it's very possible. With ethanol, you need to modify the engine slightly, and supply new fuel lines and a new tank (hell, LNG/LPG already require that, so what's the difference) and the efficiency of the engine (in miles per gallon, or litres/100k, whatever) drops 25% compared to petrol. However it's cheap to produce, far cleaner, the emissions produced by ethanol are less per litre, and all it produces is water and carbon dioxide.

    The major setback is that the major oil companies have far too much control (as I see it, that's the major reason for the failure of the talks in The Hague) - so it's going to have to be alternate energy type people (hence the reason that an electricity utility is involved) that do the groundwork.

    My $0.02 plus GST...

    Intel Inside: The world's most commonly-used warning label.
    The facts (3.33 / 6) (#35)
    by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:12:33 AM EST

    Your links were to the Governors Ethanol Coalition. They are what I would call a special interest group.

    Lets do some math. In your links, I noted two data points. 2.525 gallons of ethanol can be produced per bushel of corn, and 2 billion bushels of the US corn crop could be converted to ethanol. That adds up to roughly 5 billion gallons of ethanol per year. That is under 20 billion litres, and I am being charitable in assuming for the sake of convenience that the energy density is equivalent on a volume basis.

    US Department of Energy: Oil consumption in the US Second Quarter, 2000: 19.26 million barrels per day. Or around 4 billion litres. Per day. Every day. So, ethanol would replace around 5 days of US oil consumption (all sectors, including heating, etc. Gasoline production is around 40% of the oil consumption total). Or would it?

    From your links, again, a 24% net energy gain is available for corn-based ethanol. That means a 24 % gain after adding up the following: fueling trucks to deliver corn seed, fueling tractors to plant fertilizer and harvest the corn, energy used to produce fertilizer, energy used to produce pesticides, energy to haul the harvest to the processing facility, energy to ferment and distill the ethanol, and energy to distribute the product. So, our 20 billion litres of corn alcohol would need the energy equivalent to 16 billion litres of corn alcohol to produce it in the first place. Sounds almost as efficient as any other government make-work project. From your link:

    Ethanol production utilizes abundant domestic energy supplies of coal and natural gas to convert corn into a premium liquid fuel that can replace petroleum imports by a factor of 7 to 1.
    Mmmm, burn coal to make ethanol (BTW, the abundant natural gas is in Alaska and Canada). Sounds like a good way to confirm whether the greenhouse effect is real, once and for all. While I admit to being somewhat of a skeptic on certain environmental issues, I do think increasing the use of coal would be a terrible idea. By following the Governors Ethanol Coalition, the US could marginally reduce reliance on foreign oil only to see increased net air pollution. The net environmental impact of using corn alcohol is far greater than that of using oil.

    I agree that alternatives to oil should be sought. But please look at the data realistically, and look at the actual environmental impacts of each alternative.


    For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16

    The point... (3.50 / 2) (#43)
    by Zeram on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 09:28:52 AM EST

    Is to use other alternative fuels to power the production of ethanol. Solar, wind, hydroelectric. And with the glut of crops, like corn, in the US it seems like it would be a good idea to put that excess to use while at the same time puting in place a more eco-friendly solution for transportation. I have been thinking about wheter it would be a good idea to create a company that would actually use cleaner methods of production (including cleaner transportation methods) to create a cleaner fuel, I happened to find some data, and really I just wanted to know exactly how biased that data is.
    Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
    [ Parent ]
    We do have a viable alternative... (3.00 / 1) (#48)
    by BMaximus on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 02:25:32 PM EST

    Its called Biodiesel. Made from vegetable oil by mixing Methanol and Lye in a titrating(sp?) process. I'd have to look in to Ethanol a bit more as far as the claim that you get more energy out of making it than you put in to it but as far as Biodiesel goes, you do get more energy out of it than you put in to it and its better for the environment. Think about it, Biodiesel can be used just like diesel, it can be put right in to the tank of any vehicle with a diesel engine without any modification. With Ethanol, unless the engine was specificaly made for it, the conversion will be expensive. Any CO2 put in to the atomosphere by burning Biodiesel will be absorbed by the next crop. The best information on Biodiesel can be obtained from Joshua Tickell's "From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel" available at www.veggievan.org. I have it and I'll post a review on it. A bit of information that the book had sold me on the idea. Out of every dollar that we spend on gas, 30% of it goes to another country. If we switch to Biodiesel (or Ethanol), 100% of that money STAYS HERE.


    [ Parent ]
    Net environmental impact (5.00 / 1) (#50)
    by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 03:42:13 PM EST

    Growing fuel to meet our current demands is not feasible. Biodiesel is cool, but can North America produce enough to meet current fuel demand? I do a bit of environmental impact work, so lets start by assuming that existing farmland is generally already fully utilized, and that there is sufficient unused land available in North America (I doubt that there is enough land, but I do not have time to research that issue right now).

    To make enough biodiesel to matter, we will have to clear more land, displacing current ecosystems with monoculture plantings of genetically engineered canola, soybean, hemp, or whatever. This will lead to a significant loss of biodiversity and reduction in habitat for many species, which could lead to more extinction. You already have very few grizzlies south of the 49th, additional clearing could eliminate other species such as black bear and deer.

    When you remove your crop offsite to make biodiesel, you are also removing many soil nutrients with the plant stems and leaves. Don't forget you may need some rotation and leave some fields fallow to maintain sustainability. While you can return the residue from making biodiesel to use as a compost, that is going to be expensive.

    To improve yield, irrigation is required, as much of the remaining land in the world is marginally arable. The US has already mined their largest aquifer which underlies the Midwest. Ground subsidence has taken place, with (IIRC) drops of a metre or more noted over the last few decades (check with the USGS here and here). Once the ground drops, capacity in the aquifer is gone. BTW, "mining" is the appropriate word here. Once the water is gone, after subsidence, the aquifer is damaged forever. To date, US farmers have just drilled deeper wells, magnifying the problem.

    No one technology will replace gasoline. Each has problems - just think of the damage a billion solar collectors would cause to the Arizona desert ecosystems. Just because a different technology is not based on petroleum hydrocarbons, is not enough to make that technology benign.


    For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
    [ Parent ]

    Two things... (2.00 / 1) (#51)
    by Zeram on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 04:08:21 PM EST

    How would photovolatic cells hurt desert ecosystems? And number two, considering that the US governemnt subsidizes crop growers to not grow and to not sell the crops that they do grow, exactly how would that be a problem?
    Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
    [ Parent ]
    he sig fits you, dude. Perfectly, unfortunately. (none / 0) (#53)
    by bigbird on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:29:34 PM EST

    You need to balance the amount of energy required to produce, install, and maintain the cells with the amount of energy produced. A Lifecycle Cost Analysis (LCA) is a useful tool when completing enivronmental impact assessments. Look up LCA on Google sometime. While you are at it, look up cumulative effects assessment, and take some time to learn a little about the natural world around you. There is more to life than CRTs and silicon chips.

    There are many examples of completed environmental impact assessments online. Here is an example for a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. They cover a lot of issues with which I doubt you are familiar, and I am not about to cover it in detail for you.

    As far as desert ecosystems go, they are quite susceptible to damage. To obtain maximum efficiency, a solar array would be tightly spaced, to minimize your costs. You will need to run heavy equipment to install the array, scarring the surface, increasing erosion and compacting some areas. Raptors will have difficulty hunting among a forest of solar collectors. Larger animals will have a harder time hunting, and may escape the unfamiliar foreign structures. The nests and burrows of rodents and reptiles will be heavily damaged during construction. And in case the obvious escaped you, a desert ecosystem requires high intensity sunlight. Solar collectors cast a lot of shadow. Expect to see plant and animal communities change, or disappear.

    I could add more, but why bother? Ignorance is bliss, right?


    For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
    [ Parent ]

    Are you... (2.00 / 1) (#54)
    by Zeram on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 09:24:59 AM EST

    one of those eco-guerrilla types? The earth is a self-correcting organism, and it will prevail. All children are a burden on their parents, but as long as we act responsibly, the earth is more than capable of healing itself. I understand what you are saying about the desert ecosystem, but unless the entire desert was lined with solar cells, I doubt it would any seriously measureable impact. And as for my sig, it's one of the most zen things I have heard in a song lately, and I do believe that the less I know, the more I understand.
    Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
    [ Parent ]
    OH MY!! Unfair Raiting Alert -- NO DOUBT!!! (1.00 / 3) (#55)
    by unfair_rating_alert! on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 11:11:32 PM EST

    Can anyone really justify this comment rated at a 1.00? Really? It's an intelligent rebuttal to the main story,ompletely coherent, and referenced! Yet, here it sits at a 1.00. Wow!

    ---- Canned Text ----

    This comment was provided by unfair_rating_alert!, a troll account created strictly to look for intelligent comments unfairly rated below 2.00. You may not agree with the contents of the previous post, however, if you're fair you should agree that it didn't deserve a less than 2.00 rating. To preserve the integrity of this troll account no comments from here will be rated as it's simply too easy to open multiple accounts to stack a rating. The purpose of this account is not to affect or change individual ratings, not but to show bias within the rating system. Therefore, this account will not post topical or editorial content, rebuttals, story submissions, rate comments, or vote on story submissions. Readers are encouraged to reconsider a rating and act according to their conscience.

    [ Parent ]

    Ethanol == Bad (2.00 / 2) (#36)
    by rainbowfyre on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:38:43 AM EST

    I empthasize with the general fear that we are too dependant on oil. However, I beg everyone to truly consider what all the effects of any new energy source will be. Just because a fuel is new does not mean it is good.

    There is no doubt that ethanol can be effective: In Brazil right now ethanol cars are used equally or more often than the gasoline ones; they are slightly more expensive, but in the earlier years, the governemnt subsidized ethanol heavily enough to gain wide market share.

    However, ethanol, and other bio-fuels, are made out of food. Ethanol is generally made out of corn - I don't know about the other ones. In this day of increasing populations and decreasing resources of all kinds, we naturally want to turn to a renewable resource for our fuel. We forget that even renewable resources are not infinite.

    There exists only so much corn in the world; even today there are famines world-wide, caused by the unequal distribution of wealth. Do we really want to be in the position of outbidding other people's FOOD? In order to drive our cars?!?

    This may seem overparanoid, but we really have a growing world crisis on our hands, in a scarcity of all resources, not just fossil fuels. We must take cares not exacerbate the problem through our stupidity.


    Vericon is coming!

    Good points ... (4.00 / 1) (#39)
    by StrontiumDog on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 07:13:09 AM EST

    ... but there is a grains glut on the market, with North American farmers being massively subsidized in order not to produce even more of the stuff (in the same way that there is an European milk glut). And the biggest difference between exploiting renewable and non-renewable sources is IMHO that misuse of renewable resources can at least be counterbalanced by sensible management, while non-renewable resources are gone forever when they are used up.

    [ Parent ]
    What could make this happen (none / 0) (#42)
    by ie on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 08:12:29 AM EST

    IIRC, someone right now is researching kelp to find the gene that powers growth. One of the objectives is to create faster, bigger crops for ethanol production by finding a way to genetically engineer sugar cane to grow as quickly as kelp.

    OTOH, maybe they were researching kelp to find a way to increase the sugar content to use it as a base for ethanol.

    Either way, it wouldn't impact food supplies as much. Kelp grows something like 20 feet per day.

    [ Parent ]

    Ethanol == Bad ? (5.00 / 1) (#52)
    by robbo42 on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 05:59:39 PM EST

    To be perfectly honest, I don't see quite your argument :) . Difference of opinion, and what follows is largely MHO.

    Ethanol is made out of corn - you are absolutely right - and in that sense, it is a "waste" to create ethanol from a basic grain which could be feeding those in need. However, a far better (IIRC, I could be wrong and only speaking from the point of view of someone exposed to the industry) source of ethanol is sugarcane.

    Sugarcane - raw and white sugar - is not a staple; it is not necessary (in most, nay, nearly all cases) as a diet supplement. It is used by "us" as a food additive - in many cases we could do without it.

    The reason Brazil uses ethanol, is because of an oversupply of sugar from sugarcane - it's unsaleable on the market for whatever reason (poor prices usually being It) - so they convert it into a saleable, profitable resource.

    Australia is an example of a country that could benefit from this. After the worst year on record for sugar production and then the worst year on record for sugar prices, there are huge stockpiles of raw sugar sitting waiting for a buyer. What better way to use this than to turn it into ethanol? To me, that solves the problem of what to do with that sugar, and goes a small way to lowering the usage of oil.

    We have - according to many reports - twelve years until the ability to effectively recover oil forces prices through the roof (moreso than now). Twelve years until, essentially, we have to have an alternative. Those of us lucky enough to live in affluent societies rely on energy - and when the oil runs out what are we going to do?

    To me, ethanol - if produced appropriately - can go a long way to helping us in the modern day energy crisis, which I suspect is just beginning. It is not the full answer, but for tasks like fuelling of "normal" vehicles, it goes a long way.

    For other alternatives, we should be looking more at solar (hot water, heating and electricity), wind (electricity), biodiesel (fuel oil/diesel substitute), to name a few.

    Again, my $0.02 ...

    Intel Inside: The world's most commonly-used warning label.
    [ Parent ]
    Is the world ready for Ethanol? | 56 comments (55 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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